There are some people who want to spend their time obsessing over how nasty a certain independence blogger has been on Twitter. They’d prefer to vilify anyone who has dared to point out that the nasty thing he said was not nasty in the way they’d like it to be nasty. They’re obsessed with getting outraged on someone else’s behalf – and the someone else in this instance is a Tory MP and his MSP son. They’re attacking the couple of traditional print media outlets that we have, The National and iScot magazine, for their lack of ideological purity. They’re telling one and all that everyone who isn’t right on enough for their liking is causing a schism in the independence movement. Meanwhile there’s a case for independence that’s not being made and the only people who are benefiting from the entire episode are the Unionists.
Sometimes things need restating. This is an independence movement. It’s a national broad-based mass movement. That means that by definition it’s going to contain people that you disagree with, opinions that are not your own. It’s even going to encompass people and views that you personally might find objectionable. Because if you insist that everyone involved in the independence campaign must hold the same views that you do, and you’re going to vilify, name-call, and bully them on social media when they don’t, then you don’t really want a mass grassroots movement after all. You want a wee far left fan club. Fan clubs don’t win national self-determination. Fan clubs don’t achieve social change. Fan clubs are not capable of extending a welcoming message to those who don’t share the same narrow outlook.
Some people might be happy to restrict the message of independence and the benefits that it can bring to everyone in this benighted land to a handful of blogs which hardly anyone reads, which are so right on that it’s painful, where you can pat yourself on the back about how you and only you are the pure and real voice of the movement and everyone else is a dirty sell out. But I’m not happy with that, because I want to win. Winning means not just acknowledging that there is a diversity of views within the movement and within Scotland, it means revelling in it.
The independence campaign is about one thing and one thing only. It is about establishing the principle that the only sovereign body in Scotland is the people of Scotland. It’s about establishing the principle that that sovereign body provides the only legimitate authority to make decisions about the direction that Scotland takes as a society. What it’s not about is saying in advance what those decisions must be. What it’s certainly not about is insisting that those decisions must accord with the views of a small far left group whose adherents happen to be very noisy on Twitter. That is precisely how to lose an independence campaign.
Independence isn’t about the SNP party line either. The independence of Scotland is not predicated on how well an SNP government happens to be managing public services in a devolved administration. Other political parties will be available, other policy choices will be possible. An independent Scotland will be a democracy, it will have a non-SNP government sooner or later.
The campaign for independence is predicated on one thing, that is the belief that the best government for Scotland is a government which is elected by the people of Scotland and which is answerable to the people of Scotland and no one else. The campaign for independence is founded in the understanding that when a government is not accountable to the people, it does not govern in the interests of the people. Scotland has seen that over the decades, the centuries even, with successive Westminster governments which we didn’t elect and which did not and do not take decisions based on what is best for Scotland. Scotland has suffered as a consequence.
In Westminster Scotland doesn’t have a government which is accountable to the people of Scotland. Even when Scotland does make a democratic choice, even when the voters of this country reject a particular party or individual at the ballot box, up they pop shortly afterwards with a shiny new peerage and a job in government. Michael Forsyth and Ian Duncan were both rejected by the voters in elections, yet Duncan is the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, and Forsyth is still exerting his malign influence on Scotland’s laws and legislation despite presiding over the greatest electoral humiliation in Scottish history.
Independence is the belief that Scotland needs a government that can be held accountable by the people of Scotland. That’s it. That’s what it’s all about. Everything else is window dressing. Independence is the belief that politicians of any hue cannot be trusted, and that we need to hold them close to us so that their arses are within kicking distance of our feet. We only need to look around us to see what happens when politicians are too remote to be held to account. We see soaring levels of poverty. We see deprivation. We see emigration being held up as a “benefit of the Union”.
Right now Scotland has a government in Westminster which we didn’t vote for, which is being propped up by a party that Scotland can’t vote for, and which is implementing a Brexit which Scotland voted against. A study published this week showed that that Brexit is going to affect Scotland worse than most parts of the UK, but we’re getting Brexit anyway. Scotland is getting Brexit even though Scotland didn’t vote for it, and Scotland has been told in no uncertain terms that it has no right to be consulted or involved in the decision making.
If Scotland must leave the EU, then that must be as a consequence of a democratic decision of the people of Scotland and be implemented by a government which is accountable to the people of Scotland and which is working to get the best outcome for the people of Scotland. We don’t have that. Not even close. Whatever you think of EU membership, Scotland effectively voted twice to remain a part of the EU, once in 2014 when we were told a vote for independence was a vote to leave the EU, and once in 2016 when Scotland voted to remain a part of the EU by a considerably higher margin that it had voted to remain a part of the UK in 2014. Yet here were are, getting dragged out of the EU anyway. That’s an outrage against democracy.
What is happening to Scottish democracy is far more worthy of getting outraged about than “He said something nasty on Twitter.” If we expect to win this independence campaign, it’s going to help to have a sense of perspective.
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